Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Historical presents: gearings and momentum

At work yesterday x was telling me about a workshop on flourishing she attended. X drew a pie chart, divided into 3 sections: 40, 50 & 10%. 'One slice is for genetic factors, another is your own efforts and the other is for situation and environmental influences. What percentage influence does each have on happiness and flourishing?' I asked about the validity of the science she claimed was behind this diagram and asked 'Where's the slice for history?' 'The science is there and history is the same as sociology which is covered under the situation area.'

I went for 40% genetic, 50% situation and 10% will.

Wrong! Will is 50, genes are 10 and situational factors are 40%.

The phone then rang and the chat ended but I was left wondering how do you explain what you mean by the pressure of history on the present?

The historical present is a central focus of Lauren Berlant's Cruel Optimism which positions itself against the types of postive psychology or science of flourishing that seem to me so easily play into neoliberal governmentalities of optimistic self-enterprising. But the historical present: how to grasp the idea of it? Gears perhaps?

Gears of varying weights and locations, speeds and interconnections that can turn as slowly as Pluto's revolution around the sun, or as fast as an orbiting electron. Gears all turning, some slowing, some newly envigorated, some as local as your own bloodstream's rhythms and some as distant as the invention of the alphabet.

The historical present is a meshwork of gearings, driving a mess of phenomena. Some gears carry such weight that although they are no longer impelled, the cultural and material affects of their turning still resounds. Slowly moving towards stasis, gears like the vinyl record run only on momentum. Other gears are emergent, shrouded in the public imaginary through the lens of moral panics or the death of civic discourse, like web based social media.

The structures of feeling that are historically present are like this meshwork of gears that require something like a rhythmanalysis to grasp. The historical present weighs like pressure systems on situations and conscious intentional will.

No comments: